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Farewell, Peggy

     

Bad things happen to the kindest people
God and the Devil are kind of hard to tell apart
And I feel like my soul’s been crippled, slowly
After the tornado, when everything is wrong

When I decided to uproot my family back in 2003 and move from Seattle to Orlando for the benefit of my autistic son, there were some immediate side effects. One was that I was propelled into proposing to my then-girlfriend, because I was not comfortable asking her to move to the opposite corner of the country without “a ring and a promise”. Another was that I needed to move my retired, disabled mother cross-country along with us so that I could remain nearby to care for her. 

In both cases, I felt a large measure of guilt for ripping them away from a region rich in family and personal history and dragging them to an unfamiliar place with no support system (aside from me). I was confident that my fiancée would be able to get a job and build new connections in fairly short order. On the other hand, I worried that my mother would become isolated and alone due to her inability to drive. Although she had a computer in order to keep in touch with people on line, there would be very few opportunities for her to get out of the house and make new friends.

Fortunately, my mom ended up in an apartment complex specifically for older residents where she was able to live independently. All around her were neighbors in similar situations. That is how she came to meet Peggy S., and before long they became fast friends.

And everything means nothing in this bright green desert
These miles of phone lines and this line of skinny trees
And I feel like my soul’s been crippled, slowly
Under the grist mill, when everything is wrong

At first I only knew Peggy as “mom’s neighbor”, someone with whom my mom enjoyed spending time. She struck me as being smart and funny, a bit younger than my mom and much more energetic and healthy. There were other neighbors in mom’s little cul-de-sac, and she would be sociable with them, but Peggy was something special. I took a great deal of comfort in knowing that there was somebody nearby, talking to my mom several times per day, and who could call me right away if my mom had any kind of emergency. 

Over time I got to know Peggy a little better. I would come by to visit my mom, perhaps with my son alongside, and we three adults would sit and chat while my son played on the computer. We discussed life, we talked some politics, we reminisced about our favorite music, movies, and books. Somewhere along the way I stopped considering Peggy as just my mother’s friend, but as my friend as well.

I vividly remember one Sunday afternoon when my mom asked what I was planning on singing that week at the local Open Mike Night. It’s the high point of the week for me, a night for my wife and I to go hang out with friends and for me to bring my guitar to sing and play. That particular week, for whatever reason, I intended to do an old Martin Mull comedy song. To my surprise, Peggy was delighted that I was going to “…sing one of Marty’s songs!” It turns out she actually went to college with Martin Mull, and she had many great stories to tell of his early days of performing. After college  they went their different ways, but she said she still occasionally got a card or a letter from him. Peggy was surprised that I even knew who he was, and the next week when I played her a recording of me performing the song she said that she thought Marty would thoroughly approve of my interpretation.

I can’t fly anymore, I’ve forgotten my wings
I can’t fly anymore, it’s like I don’t know how
I can’t fly anymore, I can’t rise above and leave myself behind me
I’ve grown roots in my own body

For much of her life, Peggy had owned and operated a printing company. She had a great deal of skill and experience in copy editing, and I was very flattered three years ago when she offered to help me with my book 3500. At that point I had a completed second draft, and I was trying to polish it into its best possible form. I gave Peggy an advance reading copy, and told her I would be grateful for whatever feedback she might have to offer. I expected perhaps a few polite comments, and not much else. What I got back was a well-worn copy of the book, filled to overflowing with extensive notes, corrections, suggestions, and bookmarks. This wasn’t just some pleasant casual feedback, it was a complete professional copy editor’s pass through the manuscript with deeply insightful feedback on nearly every page.

I got help from a lot of people while creating that book, but without question it was Peggy’s feedback, carried from her extensive experience, that elevated 3500 into a truly professional product. That she freely offered her knowledge and insight means the world to me. 

My mother loved me, my father loved me
But I was always hungry, it was never enough
And I feel like my soul’s been crippled, slowly
After the tornado, When everything is wrong

In the past year, Peggy’s health had declined rapidly. A variety of ailments kept her housebound and in pain for much of the time. In particular, the last two months had seen a rapid deterioration in her condition. Where once I saw a sprightly, energetic women filled with life and vitality, now I saw a weakened woman who had lost much of her quick wit. A year ago I was able to have conversations with her that included her giving rich descriptions of her misspent youth. Two weeks ago I had a difficult conversation in which I tried to explain once again how to change the channel on her television. 

Sometime over the weekend, about ten days ago, Peggy collapsed in her apartment and passed away. She was alone, save for her dog who remained faithfully by her side (the dog is fine now, being cared for by Peggy’s daughter.) By all indications, when it happened it was very sudden and was almost certainly painless. Peggy most likely did not even know what was happening. I take that as a mercy, that in the end she was spared further suffering. She was discovered last Monday morning when a neighbor became concerned and asked the apartment manager to do a Well Check on her.

And I feel like my soul’s been crippled
And everything is wrong
And everything is wrong
And everything is wrong

My heart breaks for Peggy’s children, and for all of the friends she left behind. It is hard to imagine that she just isn’t here anymore. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to know her, and to have been touched by her life.  Thank you, Peggy, for all the happy memories you brought to my family. You are sorely missed.

* “After the Tornado” - Music and Lyrics by Jim Infantino and Jim’s Big Ego


1 Comments:
Jennifer
Ron... I'm so touched by this. I sit here with tears streaming down my cheeks but a smile on my face knowing she touched your life in such wonderful ways. Thank you so much for sharing such kinds words about my mom. - Jennifer

3500


ISBN: 1-482-09330-8

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The word "shmoolok" is a mashup of the longtime computer handles for my wife and myself ("Shmooby" and "Lokheed", respectively).

I originally created this website to be a place for my family to connect, but it has since grown into something a little different.

As for me -- I am a father, a husband, a son, a software developer, and a writer. On any given day I am not sure how good I am at any of those particular things, but I do try my best.

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